Obama’s State of the Union address: Strong words foreshadow strong action

• February 13, 2013
The 2013 State of the Union, Source: The White House Youtube Channel

The 2013 State of the Union, Source: The White House Youtube Channel

U.S. President Barack Obama laid out priorities for his second term in the State of the Union address Tuesday night, not the least of which were his bold words on climate change.  The President stated that if Congress is not able to pass legislation to curb climate change, he and his administration will take responsibility for implementing executive actions on the issue.

His stance is likely to have the support of the American people, as new poll data from the League of Conservation Voters show that two-thirds of Americans want the President to act on climate change.

From the President’s address:

But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.  Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend.  But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15.  Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods – all are now more frequent and intense.  We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence.  Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.

The good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth.  I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago.  But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.  I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

Many organizations, including the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, have urged President Obama to show his true commitment to climate leadership by using his executive powers to act as soon as possible.

He also went on to call for the creation of an Energy Security Trust to begin working to implement technology to shift cars and trucks off of oil “for good,”  as well as funding for state initiatives to double the energy efficiency of homes and businesses.

Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists applauded President Obama’s ability to connect climate action with the need to reinvigorate the American economy:

President Obama did a powerful job connecting the need for action on climate change with the challenge of revitalizing our economy. The costs of unconstrained climate change are severe, and would create an increasing drag on the economy. On the other hand, investing in clean energy technologies and climate-resilient infrastructure can protect public health and the environment while generating millions of jobs.

The optimism stirred by his speech, however, was tempered by his kind words for domestic fossil fuel production.  He stated his support for the domestic natural gas boom the U.S. has seen in the past years due to the rise of ‘fracking,’ and promised that his administration would “keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.”

Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, spoke to the need to reject this ‘all of the above’ energy strategy:

The Sierra Club thanks President Obama for his strong words in his State of the Union address, and we applaud his vow to prioritize innovative climate solutions, including investments in jobs-producing solar and wind energy as well as a focus on energy and fuel efficiency. These are critical steps forward in the fight against climate disruption, but that progress would be rolled back by more destructive oil drilling and gas fracking, and the burning of toxic tar sands.

Leaders of the environmental and climate movement in the U.S., while grateful for President Obama’s strong words on climate change, expressed that his lack of a clear action plan means the grassroots movement must continue to demand specific actions and hold him accountable.

Bill McKibben of 350.org:

Well, the president linked extreme weather to climate change — but he didn’t say in any detail what he intended to do about it. (Say, for instance, blocking the Keystone Pipeline). The climate movement will have to both push and free him to do the necessary things.

No time has been wasted in keeping the pressure on President Obama – the morning immediately following the State of the Union, 48 leaders and activists participated in civil disobedience to protest the Keystone XL pipeline.  Many hope that President Obama will reject the pipeline, which would carry tar sands oil from Canada to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico, as one of his first concrete actions against climate change.

Michael Brune (Sierra Club), Bill McKibben (350.org), Reverend Lennox Yearwood Jr. (Hip Hop Caucus), civil rights legend Julian Bond, actress Daryl Hannah, Nebraska rancher Randy Thompson and others on the frontlines of climate change were arrested after they tied themselves to the fence surrounding the White House.

This action will be amplified by the ‘Forward on Climate‘ Rally on February 17th in Washington, D.C., where over 20,000 Americans will gather to demand that President Obama make climate action part of his presidential legacy.

To neatly sum up the address, Forecast the Facts produced this scorecard for Obama:

Obama's State of the Union scorecard, Source: Forecast the Facts, 2013

Obama’s State of the Union scorecard, Source: Forecast the Facts, 2013.

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About the Author

Emily is a graduate of St. Mary's College of Maryland with a B.A. in psychology. While in school, she spent her time leading environmental and social justice campaigns. She recently worked for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network as a grassroots organizer for a moratorium on natural gas fracking in Maryland.

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